Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles Takayama is a pleasant mountain town in the northern Japan Alps famous for its well preserved old district, woodworking, and its festival. Located in the mountainous Hida Region in the northern part of Gifu Prefecture, Takayama (which is often called Hida Takayama to distinguish it from other places of the same name) can be reached in just under two and a half hours from Nagoya via the JR Hida Limited Express train and in about 5 and half hours from Tokyo by direct highway bus. Here are a few other options to access Takayama, which may be helpful depending on your location. Takayama has been renowned for many centuries for its high-quality timber and the skill of its carpenters; aspects that are still prominently displayed through the town's architecture. In the feudal days of the Edo period, when Japan was ruled by dozens of regional lords (called daimyo), the shogun in Edo had direct control over a few strategically important locations (such as Sado Island for its gold & silver mines, and Nagasaki for its port). Takayama used to be one such location due to its excellent wood and talented craftsmen, which were highly valuable commodities in those days. This brought significant wealth to the town and its merchants. Even today Hida lumber, wood crafts, and furniture remain famous nation-wide. Takayama is also an excellent base from which you can reach many nearby worthwhile locations such as the beautiful nature of Okuhida as well as Shirakawago's massive farmhouses. With this in mind, here are our Top 5 Recommendations for Takayama and the nearby areas. Number Five: Takayama Jinya As mentioned earlier, because of its valuable timber resources, in the late 1600s Takayama was put under direct control of the Tokugawa Shogunate. Staffed by officials sent from Edo (or Tokyo), the Takayama Jinya building complex in the middle of town served as the local government office until the Meiji Restoration in 1868. Today the buildings still stand and have been turned into a well-maintained museum where visitors can walk through the large tatami rooms which were once offices, conference rooms, and there is even an interesting “interrogation room”. Also, next to the main building is the largest traditional rice storehouse in Japan which now showcases many historical items and documents. Number Four: Takayama Festival Alongside the Kyoto Gion Matsuri and also Chichibu Night Festival, the Takayama Festival is ranked as one of Japan's three most beautiful festivals. Occurring twice each year this is not only a fun event to witness but also showcases the town's incredible woodworking abilities. The main attractions of the event are the parade of heavily decorated yatai, or festival floats, performances with highly sophisticated wooden karakuri dolls decorating the floats, and the procession of the ornate mikoshi through the town's streets which contain the shinto deities of the main shrine. Perhaps the highlight of the whole festival is on the evening of the first day when the floats are pulled through the streets of Takayama's old town for several hours. These two festivals which take place each Spring on April 14th and 15th as well as in Autumn on October 9th and 10th. During these dates, Takayama becomes extremely crowded with visitors. If you hope to see one of the festivals, we highly recommend arranging accommodations well in advance since lodging throughout the city gets booked many months beforehand. Number Three: Okuhida Onsen In our opinion, the Okuhida Region is one of the best places in Japan for experiencing large outdoor hot spring baths in beautiful natural surroundings. From central Takayama it's an easy side trip to any of the five onsen towns in the Okuhida Region. Each town has its own character and offers public bathhouses or ryokan with luxurious open-air baths (called rotemburo) from which bathers can admire the surrounding Northern Japan Alps while they soak. We highly recommend staying overnight at one of the many onsen ryokan in the Okuhida region, especially one with a rustic, local atmosphere and includes meals around a fireplace. Guests of these Japanese style inns are given unlimited access to the pools at the inn where they are staying. Most ryokan will also welcome daytime visitors, but will charge an admission fee. A prime example being the Suimeikan Karukaya. If you end up the Shin-Hotaka onsen town, also be sure to ride the Shin-Hotaka ropeway which features Japan's first double decker gondola and also has incredible views of the Northern Japan Alps from the top. Number Two: Shirakawago Shirakawago is a formerly remote area where unique, massive gassho-zukuri farmhouses have survived and can be viewed. It can be reached in an hour by bus from the Takayama bus center located just next to the JR Takayama train station. Although only a few decades ago this farming village was relatively unknown, in 1995 the area achieved UNESCO Cultural Heritage Status, only the fourth location to do so in Japan, and has since become one of the most popular tourist destinations in the entire country. The main attraction of Shirakawago is Ogimachi, which is the section of town with the highest concentration of gassho-zukuri farmhouses, some of which are more than 250 years old. “Gassho-zukuri” means “constructed like hands in prayer” because it's said the steep thatched-roofs look like the praying hands of a Buddhist monk. Impressively, these extremely solid houses are constructed without using any nails yet have withstood the large amounts of snow the valley receives each winter for centuries. Several of these farmhouses, such as the Wada house, are open to the public and many also offer overnight stays which (in our opinion) is the best way to experience Shirakawago. Usually these stays are fully booked several months in advance, so we recommend making reservations well ahead of time if you are hoping to spend a night in a farmhouse. Shirakawago is extremely picturesque in any season. In spring there are cherry blossoms, in summer the town is green and lush, fall brings beautiful colors, and in winter the areas is covered in a blanket of snow and there are night illuminations. If you are unable to make it all the way to Shirakawa-go from Takayama, an excellent alternative is Hida no Sato. This well-done open air museum features over 30 traditional buildings from the Hida region and is located right in Takayama. Number One: Takayama Old Town Featuring buildings dating back as far the 1600s, Takayama's Old Town district is one of the best preserved historic districts in the entire country and definitely a must-see destination. Walking these atmospheric streets, visitors experience a first-hand glimpse of what it was like to visit Takayama during the Edo period. The Old Town can be reached in an easy ten minute walk from Takayama Station. There are also local buses which can be boarded at the station as well. The Old Town area of Takayama is made up primarily of three streets, IchinoMachi, Ninomachi, and Sannomachi. Particularly worthwhile is Sannomachi Street which has many old homes, shops, cafes, and sake breweries, some of which have been in business since the 17th century. Also nearby is the Hachiman Shrine to which the autumn Takayama Festival is dedicated, and several historic houses of local merchant families that have been opened to the public. In the Northern part of the Old Town is where one of Takayama's two daily morning markets is held. Here vendors sell local produce and crafts. We hope this top five list gives you a good place to start when planning your trip to Takayama. For more information about any of the places mentioned in this video or to explore another region, click the links on the screen now, or head over to japan-guide.com, your comprehensive, up-to-date travel guide, first-hand from Japan. 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